Making Health Promotion Sexy

If my personal experience is any indication, there’s a good chance that the last time you saw a health promotion campaign on TV or on a billboard, it left a sour taste in your mouth. Too many campaigns seems to rely on fear, guilt, and shame to make their point.

There’s a great deal of debate in the field of Public Health about fear-based health promotion. Some think a little fear goes a long way in motivating people to make healthy decisions, but others (like myself) think that there are other, better ways of teaching – especially when it comes to sexual health. Most people have enough anxiety around sex to begin with, and more fear doesn’t necessarily equal more conscientiousness. Additionally, fear-based messages have the potential to increase stigma, particularly for people who’ve had an STI diagnosis.

Recently, I’ve come across two health promotion campaigns that take a more sex-positive approach, both targeting men who have sex with men in Australia.

The Glam Reaper is a sex-positive response to the famously fear-mongering Grim Reaper ad from 1987, which many argue stigmatized and alienated the gay community in Australia. Virtually anyone who was alive in Australia in 1987 still remembers this commercial (the scene in which Death “strikes” down a cringing mother and infant with a giant bowling ball is particularly memorable). The Glam Reaper seeks to raise awareness around HIV, but in a more empowering and less terrifying way than its predecessor. Spoiler Alert: Death’s bowling ball is replaced with a disco ball and there’s no baby murder.

The Drama Down Under is a health promotion campaign and accompanying online resource for gay men. The ads (like the one pictured on the right) are all over Melbourne’s trams and bus stops (admittedly, I find the rabbit in the undies a bit creepy, but I like the use of humor). The website includes information about STIs, a resource to let partners know if you’ve been diagnosed with one, and links to sexual health clinics across Australia. All this information can be viewed next to a nearly-naked and quite aesthetically-pleasing young man. Also, I love me a good “down under” double entendre.

If you know of more sex-positive health campaigns, I’d love to hear about them.

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About Kate McCombs

Kate McCombs

Kate McCombs, MPH is a NYC-based sex educator + blogger. She's the founder of Sex Geekdom, a global community for sex educators, researchers, and other folks who love having geeky conversations about sex.